Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

It's Not about the Work Ethic

Magazine article Stanford Social Innovation Review

It's Not about the Work Ethic

Article excerpt


In 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Since mat time, regions that adopted Protestantism have grown more affluent than did regions that maintained their Catholic roots - a trend that another German, the sociologist Max Weber, attempted to explain in 1905. In his classic work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber contends that Protestants' harder-working ire responsible for their greater wealth.

But a recent article by two German economists challenges Weber's venerable theory. "Protestants started education efforts earlier than Catholics," notes Sascha O. Becker, a professor of economics at the University of Stirling (Scotland) and the study's lead author. Over time, it was this jump on schooling, not a religion-driven love of labor, that ultimately drove Protestants' higher productivity.

"Researchers have long known that education matters for prosperity and well-being," says Becker. "Education helps you to get a better understanding of how the world works, helps you go beyond subsistence to do bigger things."

Luther was big on education. Opposing the Catholic practice of relying on priests to read and interpret the Latin Bible, Luther insisted that people read and interpret the Good Book for themselves - a feat that required Bibles in local languages and an elementary education. To these ends, Luther translated the Bible into German, encouraged towns to build schools, and urged parents to educate their children.

In contrast, Weber did not have much to say about education. Instead, he linked die greater economic development of Protestants to their belief that every person has a calling - a God-selected job whose profitable performance bom attracts and indicates God's favor. …

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